The Chess Player at the Cinema Museum, 18 September 2011

The Chess Player (1927)
The Chess Player (1927)

There has been a lot of talk about Napoléon (1927) recently – Abel Gance’s extravagant film, painstakingly restored by Kevin Brownlow, scored by Carl Davis and scheduled for some long-overdue screenings in San Francisco next year. But Napoléon is not the only lavish French epic to have benefited from a Photoplay restoration. Raymond Bernard’s The Chess Player (1927) is a wildly ambitious film, and if you are interested in the far reaches, excesses and extraordinary achievements of late-period silent cinema, you won’t want to miss it.

The Chess Player is based on a novel that takes the true story of the Turk, a seemingly ingenious 18th-century chess computer, subsequently revealed to be a devastatingly simple hoax, and introduces it to Catherine the Great’s Russian empire. The inventor of the device is an eccentric man who lives in Polish Lithuania and is friendly with some leading local revolutionaries. After a peasant uprising is violently quashed (the film is celebrated for these battle scenes, and associated fantasy sequences), he attempts to smuggle one of his friends across Europe using the device as a cover…

The Chess Player is screening at the Cinema Museum on Sunday 18 September at 2pm as part of the first in a series of lectures on French cinema by Jon Davies. This lecture deals with the silent era, specifically “Méliès, Lumière, Gance and their contemporaries”. Tickets are £10 or £7 for concessions and they are available from WeGotTickets here. There is no mention of musical accompaniment for this screening, but the Milestone DVD of The Chess Player includes a performance of the original orchestral score by Henri Rabaud.  Find out more here on the Cinema Museum website.

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